The Disability Interest Group (DIG)

The Disability Interest Group (DIG) is for anyone who wants to help promote a positive, safe and respectful environment for disabled students, staff and visitors. It’s a joint network, open to all disabled and non-disabled staff and students at Newcastle University.

Today (22nd of November) marks the first day of UK Disability History Month, which focuses on the history of people with disability’s struggle for equality and human rights in the UK. This month includes International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd of December), which is the day that the DIG is hosting their celebratory event, to highlight and celebrate the successes of this year and to update people on what is coming up in 2019. The event will also include a talk by Liam Isaac, NUSU¹s Inclusive Sport Officer about his great work in improving access and inclusion in University sport. The event will run 12-2pm in the courtyard, and lunch will be provided. Please book here.

To find out more about the DIG and the work they’ve been doing, I spoke to Richard Boggie, Assistant Director for HR strategy and member of the DIG committee.

Why was the DIG formed?

The network was relaunched in October 2017, with Jackie Leach Scully as Chair. We were inspired by the success of other networks, such as NU Women, and by the increased interest across the board in staff networks and EDI in general. We wanted to ensure disability issues weren’t going to be forgotten or left behind in this shift, and so we relaunched the DIG. Importantly, as part of this relaunch, we redesigned the network to be not just for people with disabilities, but also for allies.

Why did you join the DIG?

I’ve always been involved with the DIG before it was relaunched. I wanted to use my background in HR to help affect change, and from a professional point of view, I wanted to know if things weren’t working for those with disabilities. But also, from the point of view of a disabled person, I wanted to feel as though the University is doing all it can to make the experience inclusive and accessible for everyone.

For me, the network is about having a safe space to discuss openly the issues affecting me, so that I can seek help, as well as helping others facing similar issues.

What do you feel the DIG is important?

Above all, we want the DIG to be a safe, supportive environment. For many of our members, they are the only disabled person working in a unit or in their peer group, which can be a lonely experience. The DIG helps these people to feel as though they are not alone, and to talk to others who’ve had similar experiences and have worked out how best to deal with them. For this reason, a large part of our network is based around signposting to access support and advice.

Although our membership represents a large range of disabilities, we often have similar experiences, so are able to have a joke as well as share what is troubling us, because it’s a safe environment. It is also good to bring together a range of different disabilities, to learn about them and highlight common issues.

Finally, we’re also a resource for others. If individuals or departments want help with disability issues, we have members that can advise them. We can also talk directly to University services to make changes. For example, if we’re informed something is going wrong in an area such as estates, we can go directly to them to talk about it.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the things the network has been doing this year?

The work we’re probably most proud of this year is the adjustments we’ve helped make to the recruitment and induction process for staff, as it will benefit so many staff members. We feel this was done in a really inclusive way, by holding workshops and focus groups with our members, in which we looked at their experiences and what they hoped the process would look like to develop actions to improve the experiences of staff joining the University in future.

We have also felt extremely supported by the University this year. We secured funding from the EDI Fund and from Student Wellbeing for a live captioning service for University events and talks, which is currently being trialled. One of our committee also bid for some money to create some more representative images of staff and student diversity at NU for use on University communications and the website. If you’d like to volunteer to participate in this photography, please contact Becca Wilson.

We’ve also been able to take forward issues raised by our members to the committees we sit on and make important changes, such as ensuring all accessible toilets have working emergency cords.

Where you might see the network going in the future?

This year, we’re hoping to build on the success of our first year by growing our membership and running more events for all members to attend. In particular, we’d like to focus on running more positive, celebratory events. So far, we’ve done a lot which looks at what we can improve and change within the University, so now we’d like to think about what has been successful and celebrate this. This is what we intend our event on the 3rd of December to be.

I also hope that DIG will be able to influence University policy properly, in particular on recruitment and induction, and on accessibility at events. We’re also looking to work with the student disability society (Disability and Neurodiversity Society) to influence student issues.

If you’re staff or student with a disability, or an ally, and you’re interested in getting involved with the DIG, visit our intranet page to find out more about them. You can also follow them on Twitter, or join their mailing list. Their celebratory event will be hosted on the 3rd of December, so sign up to come along!